How Do People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Identify Money?

April 2, 2015

Imagine the following scenario. You go to the store and are about to pay for a few items. The cashier tells you they cost $15, so you quickly take out your money and give her the exact amount. By looking at the different bills you could easily distinguish between the $10 and the $5.

Now imagine doing the same thing but without having your vision to help you identify the different denominations. The first thing you might notice is that all the bills are the same shape and size. How would you know what to give the cashier – how would you know which bill is a $10 and which is a $5? If you expected to get change, how would you know what you were given and if you were given the right amount?

Paper money in the United States currently does not have any form of distinguishable tactile marking to accommodate someone like me who is visually impaired. To help us, we have come up with a system to keep track of and organize our money. Of course, we must first find someone we trust or even an assistive technology device that will tell us what each dollar bill is in order to begin organizing.

One of the most common methods for organizing money is folding each denomination differently. There is no standard way these should be folded; it is up to each person to decide what works best. For example:

  • $1 bills are kept unfolded
  • $5 bills are folded in half crosswise
  • $10 bills are folded in fourths
  • $20 bills are folded in thirds

Other people might use special wallets that have separate compartments for each denomination. The $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills now include numbers in larger print. This, along with magnifying software or devices, can help people who are visually impaired read and identify paper money more easily.

Nowadays many assistive technology devices and mobile apps help people who are blind or visually impaired identify money. These will tell the user – either verbally or through tones or vibrations – the denomination of each bill. The U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) developed two mobile applications for this purpose. The EyeNote® is compatible with Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod, while the IDEAL Currency Identifier was designed for the Android platform.

Coins can be easily identified by touch. Each coin is a different size and the edges are either smooth or ridged. Nickels and pennies have smooth edges; the nickel is thicker and larger than the penny. Dimes and quarters both have ridged edges, and the quarter is thicker and larger than the dime.

The U.S. Government is currently working on making paper money more accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired. Studies are being conducted across the United States to develop tactile markings that can be easily recognized by touch. In the meantime, they encourage individuals to use the above mentioned mobile applications as well as the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier, a handheld device which people throughout the United States can receive free of charge. This article provides more information about the government’s efforts and research for making currency accessible as well as how to obtain the mobile applications and iBill Talking Banknote Identifier.

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